Targeting Character Issues in Teens
When it comes to parenting, there is nothing I care more about than character.
And thankfully, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Yesterday on my Facebook page I asked what character qualities readers hoped to instill in their kids. Comments came flooding in: “Empathy, kindness, resilience, respect, honesty, integrity, gratitude, humility, thoughtfulness…” and the list went on. People mentioned the challenge of raising kids of character in a world often promoting selfishness, disrespect and a sense of entitlement. Yes, raising kids of character is not for the faint of heart.
Yet what a difference it can make if we can raise kids of character in this world so desperately needing it!
Billy Graham said, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”
Raising kids of character is worth every effort on our part.
So how do we teach kids character? Many aspects of parenting are hard, but some are more straight forward than others. I for one, appreciate the obvious teach-and-learn, effort-and-reward parts of parenting. But teaching character is trickier than say, teaching kids to brush their teeth, wipe their bottoms, or tie their shoes. (Though the last two might tie for a close second in our home rightaboutnow.)
I always say that the most important thing we can do as parents is set authentic examples for our kids, and character is no exception. In a previous post I talked about the high calling parents have to set an example in the way they live their daily lives. So yes, as a general rule: parents with great character qualities will model this to their kids, and ideally, it will rub off. That’s a good start.
We can also talk to our kids about character–teaching them and training them (especially when they are young) what it means to be men and women of character. We can inspire them with great stories, teach them spiritual principles, and surround them with positive examples. We can involve our kids in service projects and encourage them to make a difference. Then we can reward them with high fives and stickers on a chart and praise them for what we see growing in them.
But what happens when they get a little older?
What do we do when we see areas of concern in our TEENAGERS’ CHARACTER?
What if we have done our very best, and still see a certain attitude or disposition…a complaining, critical spirit, a poor work ethic, self-pity, meanness, disrespect, or blatant selfishness?
And the high fives and sticker charts are no longer working.
Or maybe the better question is: Is there anything we can do?
Yes! I say yes.
I say yes to you and I say yes to me and yes to my own teenagers with their own character issues. (yes! My boys have them too!)
Yes we should take character issues seriously, and in my opinion, we should put more focus on character than a lot of the things we fret over every day.
Someone might argue that teenagers will have mood swings and bad attitudes and we need to just let them go through it, and sure–I get that. We do need to give our teens some space (and give them a lot of sleep too). But I’m talking here about that thing you see that you just know in your knower is an issue. The thing that’s becoming a part of your teen’s personality. And the thing that you know, if left alone, could grow to become a character flaw with much bigger ramifications down the road. (and if you’re like me you might be an expert at lying awake at 2:00 AM while you go through all of those potential ramifications. Most of which end on the streets or in jail.) (please don’t be like me.)
But really! We should not let fear rule us, but we should recognize the importance of focusing on character. Especially into the teenage years.
Helping kids grow in character: When they hit their teens, we should continue to talk to our teens about character issues, and we must continue to set an example for them. But as they get older, they need to find inspiration outside of Mom and Dad. They need to discover lessons and develop convictions on their own.
With this in mind, I started something new this year, and it’s going so well I thought I’d share it with you, too.
I thought of this new thing spontaneously, (on January 2nd to be exact,) and right there on the spot, I asked one of my sons for a full-year commitment. Yep, call me crazy, but I assigned my son one more thing to add to his already busy schedule. I understand that no teenager has extra time–but I decided that this might just need to push something else out of the way. It’s that important.
And (for lack of a better name) I simply call it:
DAILY CHARACTER TRAINING
Character training is thirty minutes of reading, listening to a podcast or a video directly related to character. This is different form his Bible devotions (which my boys also do daily), and aside from all school assignments. His character training time may have a spiritual element to it, but it doesn’t have to. I started him off with a stack of books, a few podcasts, and some blog posts. I also gave him a fresh journal.
Now I require him to spend at least thirty minutes a day reading or listening (or watching) and then he is required to journal these three simple things:
1. THE DATE
2. WHAT HE READ/LISTENED TO etc. (book title and chapter/page, etc. cite it specifically so he can find it later if he wants to.)
3. ONE TAKE-HOME LESSON OR TRUTH HE LEARNED THAT DAY.
At first there was a little push-back. “No way Mom–I’m too busy!” “I’m reading so much for school already!” “I already do devotions every day.” “Why?….”
I didn’t let him sway me. Nope. Add the thirty minutes. Write it down. Just do what I say and don’t argue. (I’m sweet like that.) I had to
harp on gently remind him every day at first. I checked his journal and got on him if he was not taking notes. I was determined.
But soon it became a habit.
A full month into it, I began to see changes. I found the most amazing things in his journal. (He agreed that I could read this particular journal.) I saw notes about areas that he needed to work on. Quotes. Stories about people who inspired him. He was appreciating character qualities from great writers and inspiring people from history.
I only required one line in the journal, but most days he had full pages.
True to our family style, we are not super rigid about how this is done. And he doesn’t usually fit in seven days a week. I’d say he’s averaging five. But the cool thing is, he likes it! When one book is completed, he might listen to a podcast series for a couple of days. Then on to the next book. I might pick out a few blog posts to assign him for a day or two, trying to keep things interesting. Often, he likes the books so much he reads them at night as well as in his morning “character time”.
As of now–over three months into it, I can say this is going well. It’s sticking. I see a difference. I hear different words and I see him choosing different styles of communicating. And…when I do see a struggle with attitude or behavior, I can refer to his journal and suggest he go look over his notes.
Because self-correction is so much more valuable than Mom-correction.
I’ll list the books and other resources I have used in our lineup so far. I’m sure there are many more great options out there, and I am absolutely gathering more things to add to my list as I go. (I didn’t exactly plan this in advance.) If you have any to add to the list, feel free to leave a note in comments.
As for my son, the requirement is that the resources we use are #1: focused on character, and #2: In alignment with God’s Word (even if they aren’t “Christian books”.)
Here’s the books he has read or on the list to be read*:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Habitudes Book #1: The Art of Self-Leadership [Faith-Based] (Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes)
Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy
The Search for Significance Student Edition
How to Win Friends & Influence People
Created for Work: Practical Insights for Young Men
A Young Man’s Guide to Making Right Choices: Your Life God’s Way
PODCASTS: Various individual episodes. Some by Frances Chan, Michael Hyatt, Andy Stanley
Also: some individual blog posts, Ted Talks, Youtube videos, and chapters taken from books I have read.
PROVERBS: I don’t know if it fits under their devotions, or Character Training time, but I also ask my boys to read one chapter of Proverbs every day as well. (with 31 chapters, it is super easy to read one for each day of the month!) In my opinion, Proverbs is the greatest character training, wisdom-building tool available!
Please keep in mind: Character is a big topic and forming character is best developed through intentional parenting and a lot of consistent communication and effort. Our new “character training” assignment is just one helpful tool we are using. With that said, I am really excited to see the difference it is making!
Leave me a comment with your thoughts on teens and character, or tools you use to instill character qualities in your kids.
PS I am personally reading this book right now and absolutely loving it: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes
*Some of the books mentioned have Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click-through my link and buy something, I will benefit a few cents from each purchase. Thank you for supporting my blog in this way! 🙂
I am loving your book and really loving your podcasts and ideas for character development. I have 10 and 7 year old boys. Do you have specific ideas for podcasts / books for their age? I also have a 1 year old, so I don’t have a ton of time to read out loud to them. Thanks!
I loved using Adventures in Odyssey audio stories for my boys at that age. Otherwise, I do encourage you to read to them while holding or playing with the baby. Audio books are great as well! And get them reading good books on their own as much as possible. (A podcast episode sharing some of my favorite books for boys of all ages is coming soon!)
Thank you so much for this information! I had prayed to the Lord a couple of day ago and asked him to give me something for character building for my teenage boys. Before i read this article, I heard the book of Proverbs and then I asked my daughter if she still had the book that my adult son gave her called…How to win friends and influence people.
i was lead to this article and everything was confirmed! Thank You and God Bless!
Amazing, thank you for sharing that Bridget!! Big hugs and blessings and hope to continue to encourage you through what i share! XO
Monica Swanson – when I grow up (I am 47 years old) I want to be like you. Seriously! Infact, I wish I knew of you when I started my parenting journey 17 years ago. I love your ideas. I love your energy. I love your faith. And I love modern technology that allows you to bring such encouragement to every corner of the globe. Please come to London so I can pick every aspect of your mother’s brain. 🙂 🙂 And thank you for sharing so much of your life with so many. You are a true example of living God’s purposes. Ps. I had an idea before reading your post today that we as a family were going to have a character goal for each week – a motto to go on our fridge – something we could focus on as a family. i.e. Kindness. This week we are practicing words of kindness to each other. There are penalties for unkind words which currently involve an act of kindness on the day to the person who was on the receiving end of the unkind words. Next week we will do something different.
Leonora — That was incredibly kind!! Thank you so much. Sounds to me like you’re already doing pretty well, but I am flattered. 😉 I’d love to come to London–I’ll add that to my book tour (in my dreams anyways!) Love your family’s weekly character goal plan. Brilliant! Keep it up and keep in touch. You’re a gem. Aloha!
Love this so much Monica! i don’t have teens yet but would love to start this for our summer. Any idea of a list of resources for younger children? Most specifically 9, 10 year old boys.
Thank you Meredith! Oh, hmmm, I’d love to get a list together and get back to you. (I’ll try…) but meanwhile my best suggestion is to start by reading some good stories together and discussing the character qualities you find along the way. I’m reading Chronicles of Narnia with my 8 and 14 yr. old and we chat often about the things that come up in the story. Most older books (I’m a fan of classic lit.) will provide you with lots of character-rich conversations. But, yes…will still try to work on a list fro that age range! much aloha-
This came at the perfect time. Will definitely be looking into these books for my 14 year old son. Thank you.
So glad to hear that! 😉 Blessings.
Have you heard of the Lamplighter books? They are all centered around Christlike character.
They are great moral and character holding stories!
Yes! Just listened to our first Lamplighter (audio) book! Super good. Thank you! 🙂
I love the idea of this. How old are your kids that are doing this? My son is 11 and I’m always looking for teachable moments about character. But I’d never get him to read a 7 habits book! I may need short stories and books or blog posts. But I think he would benefit from reading short atories about a child his age that he could relate to and see, from the outside looking in, the lesson or flaw or moral…etc
Thank you Kim. Yes, you are right– it has to be age appropriate to be effective. My boys are 16 and 14. The 14 year old is doing well with these books though going through them slower.
For younger boys I love stories with characters that inspire. I have a post with a list of books my boys are reading, most of which have a moral lesson or at least characters that are good role models. Here is a link to that post: https://monicaswanson.com/what-my-boys-have-been-reading/
I intend to have a more complete list up on the blog eventually–but you might find a couple good ones in that post. 🙂
Great inspiring post Monica! Thank you 🙂
Do hard things- amazing book written by two teenage boys.
I love hearing there are moms out there concerned about character. Gives me hope for my girls future husbands! Thank you
What a great idea, thanks Monica! Will make a plan to put this into action for my boys too.
I love this, it reminds me of an interview I heard years ago on a talk-radio show with Dr. James Dobson. He had a guest who was a pastor and he paid his kids to read biblical material as they got into their teens. At first I thought this sounded too much like bribery, but he went on to explain that it was rather a reward for doing a “job” well done, like a chore or anything else we compensate our kids for. After reading each book, they had to write up a couple of paragraphs explaining what they got out of the book. The dad would then give them $5-$10, depending on the length and level of mature reading and the quality of their response. I’m definitely trying this with my 3 older kids (12, 13, 16). I’m excited to see what grows from this experience! Thanks again 🙂
I love this idea so much!! My kids are only 9 and 7 but I’ve been collecting books for my 9 year old already. I will absolutely make most of the books by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud mandatory reading for this purpose when my kids are old enough to read them. They are the best books on character I’ve read and they changed my life. I would start with “Boundaries” and move on to “Never Go Back”, “How People Grow”, and the rest. I’m surprised you put “How to Win Friends and Influence People” on a list about character though… I think that book condones flattery which I wouldn’t really see as a positive character trait?
Susie– Thank you for the comment! I also have loved “Boundaries” and should add that to my boys list for sure! I haven’t read “Never Go Back” or “How People Grow”– looks like I’ll add those to MY list as well! 🙂
Have you read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”? I actually thought I wouldn’t like it for the same reason but when I started going through it I realized that it actually has some super good principles in it. I see what you’re saying, but I suppose it depends on how you look at it. And to be fair–I only read the first two sections and then my son started in, so I ought to go back and read more. My son really liked it though and he’s pretty sensitive to things that aren’t in alignment with the good character (and Biblical) teaching we have taught him. Anyways–love hearing from you and thanks!! 🙂 Aloha-
I love the idea of this, but for my teens I just cannot imagine adding another thing to their day. I see what you mean though–this may be more important than other things that they are doing…Wish I could add hours to a day! 🙂 Thank you for the inspiration. Glad it’s going well for your boys.
Love this. Great books on the list and a great idea for a daily reading habit for teens!
I really appreciate the intentionality of this. It’s one thing to make suggestions on areas kids (teens) can work on their character, but when they have to sit and read about it in a book (and not from parents) I see where they are much more likely to pick up things on their own. It is more their own thing. I will be adding many of these books to my son’s list as he is nearing his teen years! Thank you.